This month ULI Philadelphia spotlights Tom Smithgall, Senior Vice President at High Real Estate Group LLC. Tom has more than 25 years of development and building experience with industrial, commercial and hospitality projects throughout the eastern U.S. He currently serves as co-chair of the Central Pennsylvania Regional Satellite Council and is Regional Satellites Council Chair, as well as a member of the Advisory Board and Management Committee.
How long have you been a ULI member?
I was encouraged to join ULI by my predecessor in 1997 and have been fortunate to be involved in re-energizing a more vibrant ULI Philadelphia including our regional satellites.
How has ULI helped you?
Through ULI I have built long-term business relationships and personal friendships with the top individuals in the field. It is also exciting to share my experiences with other members and young leaders of our area. ULI is a premier real estate development organization and it is fabulous to be a part of its creativity.
Tell us a little about your firm.
Our company is guided by the philosophy of building trustworthy relationships, High Real Estate Group and its affiliates are dedicated to exceeding the expectations of each of our clients as we provide solutions to their real estate- and construction-related challenges. Our portfolio of office, industrial, multi-family residential, retail, and hotel properties exceeds 10 million square feet and spans the eastern U.S. from New York to Florida. Our presence in the real estate industry began in 1963 and, as the High organization grew, several new real estate- and construction-related businesses evolved. In 1995, High Real Estate Group LLC was formed to achieve synergy among several individual business units. These businesses operate within a strategically driven structure designed to create significant value-added benefit to our clients. Since 1995, we have continued to grow and serve an increasing number of clients in a broader geography with a truly full-service offering of products and services.
Tell us about the property you are working on with the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Lancaster and Penn Square Partners.
As part of the Lancaster Marriott at Penn Square and Lancaster County Convention Center the Montgomery Mansion was converted earlier this year into a high-end private dining and meeting facility — the final piece in the puzzle. The Montgomery Mansion was originally built in the early 1800s, designed by a master builder from England, Stephen Hills. We did the exterior renovation in 2009. The concept was to restore the exterior first and then build new facilities within the existing structure. For the first several years the hotel was open we were trying to figure out what to do with some of the space and came up with the idea for fine dining and meeting space. We did a complete interior restoration and brought back some historic features found in documentation. We recently received the C. Emlen Urban Award from the Lancaster County Historic Preservation Trust for adaptive re-use. We are truly proud of this one! One of the taglines for our city is “Lancaster Authentic” and we made a commitment to be respectful of the street and the heritage that exists. Making the additional significant efforts, like the Montgomery Mansion, are worth it, and professionally, this is what makes my work so satisfying.
What would you be doing if not real estate?
I love what I do. I have the opportunity to go from concept to reality and that’s what makes me love the real estate development business. Perhaps I could be a teacher or mentor, but I am not sure.
If you could have one super power what would it be?
I guess I missed the comic book stage in my youth. However, I truly admire teachers. My wife, Barbra, is a great teacher. I love that teachers have the power to shape the future.
What do you see as Lancaster’s biggest land use challenge?
Sustainable, smart growth — building urban, suburban and rural communities with housing, entertainment, and transportation choices near jobs, shops and schools. This approach supports local economies and protects the environment. In Lancaster, specifically, it has been a struggle to define densities within the established urban growth boundaries. In the past we extended the development boundaries outward but now we are looking back towards our towns and cities and finding ways to revitalize the core. It will be a challenge to move this discussion forward and convince people to act in a sustainable way.